Teacher’s 7 years off work for sore throat

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Durban - A Phoenix teacher on sick leave for seven years – because of laryngitis or a “sore throat” – is allegedly continuing to draw a full salary, even though her school thinks she has been dismissed.

While away from the classroom during her sick leave, the teacher has reportedly been seen frequenting the gym and spending time at shopping centres.

A well-placed source said the teacher, who has been at a Phoenix school for 28 years, had not been teaching for the past seven years because of a “sore throat”.

“She receives full pay of about R18 000 a month and is essentially getting paid for nothing.”

He said the teacher had been dismissed in September but was appealing against the decision and remained on full pay until the matter was finalised.

The school’s governing body chairman confirmed the teacher’s seven-year absence and dismissal, although he said he was not aware whether she was continuing to receive full pay.

“The parents are very upset. It’s a loss to the children and they are not receiving constructive teaching. It’s impacting the quality of teaching because the school is having to change teachers often,” he said.

He said they hoped the appeal would be dealt with speedily.

“All we’re interested in is getting a permanent teacher.”

The teacher, whose name is known to the Daily News, had not responded to calls and messages seeking comment by the time of publication.

According to the KwaZulu-Natal education department, the teacher has not been fired.

Bhekisisa Mncube, spokesman for Education MEC Peggy Nkonyeni, said the case was receiving attention “at the highest level of the department”.

“Our view, although the investigation is still ongoing, is that there has been an abuse of the system and lapses in a certain chain of command. This matter forms part of the wider probe in this matter,” he said.

“We can assure the public that taxpayers’ money will not go down the drain.”

“If the teacher has misled the department in any material facts, every cent will be recovered from her and a logical conclusion of dismissal will be entertained after following all due processes,” Mncube said.

If the teacher had drawn a salary of R18 000 she would, to date, have received in the region of R1.5m during her absence.

Mncube continued: “We have information that, despite reporting sick to the department, she has been spotted at the local gym and shopping centres during office hours.”

Mncube said Nkonyeni had mentioned recently that there was “simply no room for lethargy and incompetence”.

“People who are misfits in our education system must either show their interest to learn to empower themselves or voluntarily leave. They must either shape up or ship out,” he said.

“This case is no different.”

Tom Stokes, the DA’s spokesman on provincial education, said this case was an indication of the ineffectiveness of officials.

“Teachers are getting paid despite exceeding their sick leave,” he said, adding that where teachers were ill for a long period they must be assessed by a Department of Education approved doctor so that the teacher can be medically boarded.

“The other problem is that the teacher is not removed from the school roll so a replacement teacher is hired or they have bigger classes. This is unfair to taxpayers who are the parents and it affects the quality of education.”

Stokes confirmed that teachers would receive full salaries while appealing against dismissal.

Paul Colditz, chief executive of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South Africa, said this was the longest case of teacher absenteeism he had been informed of.

He said that in a case like this, the matter should be investigated, the teacher assessed by a medical practitioner and a recommendation made to the head of department – a process which would take a year maximum.

“If the teacher has been receiving a salary for seven years then it’s a huge amount including contributions to medical aid, pension and housing, as well as having to pay substitutes,” Colditz said.

The school directed all enquiries on the teacher to the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education.

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